Kanaan Speaks from the Grave? & Syria in Iraq

Mideastwire.com has translated a few stories of interest. The first is the al-Seyassah story reporting that Ghazi Kanaan, the Minister of interior and long time intelligence chief and master of Lebanon who committed suicide last fall at the time of the UN’s release of its first interim report on the Hariri investigation, recorded all he knew about the Hariri murder. Although plausible, this sounds like black propaganda timed to build suspense before the release of the final UN report, which is due. The source was a “Gulf diplomat,” who also described how Kanaan was murdered and where he was shot. How he could know this information, which was surely not included on a pre-recorded video by Kanaan, is a mystery and hard to figure. Sounds like gory detail thrown in for a little extra sensation, but which ultimately is unbelievable. Here is the article.

Ghazi Kanaan in videotape before his assassination reveals names…

In its September 4 edition, Al Seyassah, an independent daily, reported that: “According to diplomatic information at the UN in New York, there was ‘a possibility that a dramatic surprise might emerge in the investigations into the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Al-Hariri, which might give the Syrian regime in Damascus a deadly blow’, in light of the increasing talk about ‘finding the most truthful evidence which proves that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad himself, along with a few members of his family and close aides, have supervised, minute by minute, the course of the assassination operation since its early stages and months before it occurred, in terms of planning, preparation and execution, in collaboration with Lebanese political, military and security leaders, as well as groups affiliated to a number of parties, factions and Salafi groups’.

“A Gulf diplomat at the UN headquarters in New York, stated that the information – the source of which he preferred to keep out of the spotlight for the time being – pointed out that ‘this mind-blowing surprise was due to the possible existence of a videotape, recorded in picture and sound, by the head of the Syrian military intelligence and former minister of interior…, Major General Ghazi Kanaan, a few weeks before his suspicious ‘suicide’’.

“[The diplomat continued:] ‘In this tape, he revealed the plot to assassinate Al-Hariri from A to Z, with names, dates and the details of the crime from its planning stages until its execution in February 2005, in addition to the reasons which made the head of the Syrian regime make such a move, the most prominent of which is the fact he received false information which claimed that Al-Hariri was planning with foreign and Arab sides to overthrow the Ba’thist regime in Damascus, and that these plans had reached very advanced stages since the issuance of resolution 1559, which called on Syria to withdraw from Lebanon’.

“The Gulf diplomat added in a phone conversation with Al Seyassah in Paris, that ‘the intelligence bodies of Major General Asef Shawkat, Al-Assad’s brother-in-law and the second men in the state today, had information according to which Ghazi Kanaan was planning to leave the regime and resort to the US with all the documents and information regarding the assassination of Al-Hariri, as well as the assassination and attempted assassination plans which preceded and followed it in the ranks of Lebanese politicians and journalists’.

“Also, according to the information of the Gulf diplomat, ‘the Syrian minister of interior (Kanaan), had been placed along with his family members, his aides and followers outside of the security circle of the Ba’th party politicians and businessmen, and under strict observation… He realized that his plans to leave the regime and resort to the US were uncovered, and he was determined to elude [them] sooner. However, everything got out of his control’.

“According to the information, ‘on October 12 2005, and as he had just arrived to his office at the Ministry of Interior, he might have received a phone call or a warning from one of his close aides, regarding the fact that Asef Shawkat and his people were heading personally to confront him with the information they had about his plan to escape and his relations with the Americans. He realized that it was all over, which would justify why he left his office and went home for 45 minutes then came back to the Ministry: he smuggled out the videotape and surrendered it to someone that is not necessarily a member of his family…’

“According to the information of the Gulf diplomat: ‘The regime of Bashar Al-Assad and his brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat, might not know about the existence of Ghazi Kanaan videotape…’ The diplomat expressed his belief that Kanaan might have resisted Shawkat and his people when they confronted him in his office with the information they had about ‘his betrayal of the party and the president’ and that after he realized what was going to happen to him following his arrest, he desperately attempted to use his personal weapon. However, they beat him by shooting him all over his body, then gave him a mercy bullet in the head…” – Al Seyassah, Kuwait

“Riyadh whispers to Damascus: this is the end between us

Elaph, a pan Arab website, reported in its September 5 issue about the diplomatic differences between Saudi Arabia and Syria. The website reported: “It seems that the silent crisis between Riyadh and Damascus is on its way towards escalation after the servant of the two holy shrines, king Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz, refused to receive one of Al-Assad’s delegates who came to Jeddah last week in an attempt to explain his president’s speech which aroused the anger of the Saudi government according to what Arab sources told Elaph. This practically marks the end of the time of ‘low voices’ in what relates to conflicts inside the Arab house. In an indirect reply to the criticisms that came from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan against Hezbollah for capturing two Israeli soldiers which led to the war in Lebanon, the Syrian president announced: ‘If the resistors are adventurers then do we say that Sultan Basha Al-Atrash and Ibrahim Hananu (Syrian indepen! dence heroes) and Sa’d Zaghloul (Egyptian patriotic leader during British colonization) were adventurers’. The Saudi government was the side that described Hezbollah’s operation as an ‘uncalculated adventure’.”

Ex-Iraqi Prime Minister Ja`fari in a long interview with al-Hayat explains why Iraqis are unhappy with Syria, claiming they are involved with the insurgency. He denied that Iran plays any part in hurting Iraq or the helping insurgents. “There are detainees who confessed on television screens that they were trained in Lattakia. When infiltrators come from Syria, we believe there is a bad intention,” he said. Here is a bit of the article:

Ja’fari to Hayat: Sunni & Al-Sadr movements spared country

On September 1, the daily Al Hayat reported: “Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja’fari has disclosed that the inclusion of Shi’i leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement and the Arab Sunni one in the Iraqi government and the entire political process spared the country a “destructive war” after the bombing of the golden domes of Imams Ali Al-Hadi and Hasan al-Askari shrines in Samarra. Speaking during a long interview with Al Hayat in London, the former Iraqi prime minister stressed that personal differences and not political ones were behind his departure from government, that they originated from the other side, and that this was done “in a way which contravened the democratic process”.

“While rejecting Washington’s accusations against Tehran of involvement in backing the Iraqi insurgency, he accused Syria of involvement in the violence and said: “There are detainees who confessed on television screens that they were trained in Lattakia. When infiltrators come from Syria, we believe there is a bad intention.” Asked about these countries’ motives, Al-Ja’fari talked about “their fears from the democratic process that is beating the drums of the danger of the peoples’ moves against the regimes they did not elect. For some of them the sectarianism complex went to their heads”, while “others feared the international factor and turned Iraq into a stage for settling accounts on its territories and at the expense of its people and not their people”.

One Syria Comment reader wrote yesterday to ask: “Can somebody explain to me why Syria and Iraq are not friends even though Syria and Iran are friends and Iran and Iraq are friends, so how come Syria and Iraq are not friends?” Here is the answer I posted yesterday in the comment section.

At Monday, September 04, 2006, Joshua Landis said…
Norman, It is confusing. My best guess is that competition between Sadrists and SCIRI is at the root of this. Muqtada al-Sadr traveled to Damascus and established good relations there. He is also opposed to Iraqi federalism, which wins him support in Damascus as well. He is considered less beholden to Iran than SCIRI. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution has increasingly backed the federal idea and the creation of a Southern Shiite State. The militias of both Shiite groups have been clashing and will vie for leadership in Iraq.

British intelligence claims that Damascus is still the jumping off point for British recruited for Jihad in Iraq. Al-Qaida in Iraq flies people to Damascus and ferrets them into Iraq. Syria seems to have arrested some of these folks, but not all. Why and to what extent it is willfully closing its eyes to this traffic? I don’t know.

Syria has also resisted arresting and turning over top Saddam regime figures living in Syria. It made a small gesture in this direction last year, but when the US, refused to offer Syria anything in return for this help, Damascus called a stop to its cooperation and has not budged since.

It would seem that Syria is keeping as many cards on the table in Iraq as it can. It is trying to cultivate connections with the Sunnis, Secular Arab nationalist Shiites, the Sadrists, and even with the Kurds. In the meantime, Damascus is trying to frustrate the Americans and PM Maliki, who Syria sees as America’s man in Baghdad. It is also siding with Sadr against SCIRI.

This means that PM Maliki and SCIRI will refuse to reward Syria with better official relations. They understand that Syria, in order to target the US, will target them. Iraqi authorities have become much more polite about their objections to Syrian policy than they were even a year ago. Should the US begin to withdraw from Iraq, Syrian policy might change rapidly. Syria and Iran will become competitors in Iraq, once their primary interest in pushing America out is accomplished and no longer unites them.

Also see t_desco’s coverage of the assassination attempt on the Lebanese Police Officer involved in the probe into Hariri’s murder.

Finally, James Denselow sent me a summary of Syria’s Information Minister Muhsin Bilal’s press interview in London this weekend:

Visit of Syrian Minister of Information Dr. Mohsen Bilal
Tuesday 5 September 2006

Yesterday saw the visit of the Dr Bilal, Syrian Minister of Information, to London. During a morning press conference chaired by the Director of the Syrian Media Centre Mr Armanazi, Dr Bilal described the reason for his visit, which is unofficial due to the current state of UK-Syrian relations, as an opportunity to ‘talk directly’ to British and EU public opinion and try and improve a better understanding of Syria in the West.

Dr Bilal highlighted that public opinion in Syria and the greater Middle East is wracked by questions over the West’s interference in Arab internal affairs, support given to Israel and political insults directed at regional leaders.

Following the 34 day conflict in Lebanon, the Minister was clear in expressing Syria’s position on the future of the Middle East; put simply the Lebanese experience has shown that resistance is a legitimate reaction to occupation and that without addressing the Israeli occupation of Arab lands the region will experience a ‘hurricane’ of violence every few years. The trans-national connections and globalised world that we live in today means that such hurricanes inevitably impact beyond sovereign borders.

Dr Bilal warned that while Syria is determined to peacefully regain the Golan Heights, that the Lebanese and Palestinian experiences in resistance have shown that there exists ‘another road’ to achieving ones aims.

In respect to Lebanon-Syria relations the Minister confirmed what was discussed in the meeting between President Assad and UN Secretary General Koffi Annan, that a positive outcome of UNSCR 1701 could see Lebanese and Syrian forces in respective control of their joint border. In respect to questions of border demarcation Dr Bilal said that such an act could only occur following complete Israeli withdrawal from the Sheeba farms.

In response to a question concerning Syria’s potential role in mediating the release of Israeli soldiers held by Hizbullah the Minister stated clearly that ‘Syria cannot be a mediator in prisoner release’. Instead Dr Bilal suggested that a neutral mediator such as Germany, could play such a role.

When asked to talk on US-Syrian relations the Minister, Dr Mohsen bemoaned the fact that relations were completely nought, in slight contradiction to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s assertions that channels of sorts are still open. Dr Mohsen stressed that Syria is at ‘the heart of the Middle East’ with influence ‘beyond its borders’ and welcomed future visits from any European leaders to Damascus.

The press conference was attended by representatives from Reuters, BSN, BBC, Syria Media Centre, UPI, The Independent, The Guardian, CNN, Al Jazeera

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